When Thomas Hawkins felled the first tree on an area of land next to the picturesque South Somerset village of Yeovilton, it heralded the beginning of what was to become one of the most important Military airfields in the United Kingdom.
The Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton (HMS Heron) was commissioned on 18th June 1940 and it is this 75th anniversary that is the heart of Air Day 2015. Over the years, Yeovilton’s aircraft and personnel have been involved in many conflicts from the Second World War through Korea to the 1982 Falklands War. These were followed with the wars in the Balkans, two Gulf Wars in Iraq and the war on terror in Afghanistan.
For Air Day 2015, the Royal Navy will be the cornerstone of the display with links to events past and present on the ground and in the air. The Yeovilton based Royal Navy Historic flight (RNHF) will have their Hawker Sea Fury FB11 (VR930) in the static representing the type’s success during the Korean War. RNHF are also hoping to display Fairey Swordfish I (W5856) which is resplendent in newly applied 820 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) markings, giving a nice link back to the famous attacks on the German battleship ‘Bismarck’. The welcome return of Kennet Aviation’s Supermarine Seafire Mk XVII (SX336) is much anticipated, as one of only two airworthy examples in the world.
Now under the ownership of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust (FNHT) the mighty de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW2 (XP924) is hoped to give a thunderous display. Since its arrival at Yeovilton last September the aircraft has undergone a winter of deep maintenance and if its current engine problems can be overcome, the ‘Foxy Lady’ will once again grace the Somerset skies.
The McDonnell Douglas F-4K Phantom FG1 symbolised brute force and swept wing elegance. The aircraft was operated by the Royal Navy for a decade and XV586, resplendent in its 892NAS markings will again link to Yeoviltons fast-jet heritage. Alongside the Phantom will be two BAe Sea Harrier FA2s in their former 800 & 801NAS markings. The Sea Harrier Force was based at Yeovilton for almost 27 years and became world renowned through its heroic exploits during the 1982 Falklands War. The type also served with distinction through the Balkan wars of the 1990s and is probably the most significant fast jet the Fleet Air Arm has operated.
RNAS Yeovilton is in a period of transition with departure and arrival of aircraft types. The Westland Lynx HMA8 is due to decommission in March 2017 and the Maritime Role Demonstration performed by 815NAS will show off some of the aircraft’s capabilities. Its replacement, the AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA2 is now the mount of the Royal Navy ‘Black Cats’ helicopter display team. Provided by 825NAS, it’s the 1st time the team has solely used this new high-tech maritime attack helicopter.
First entering service with the Royal Navy in 1979 the venerable Westland Sea King HC4 has become an icon of British aviation. As part of the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) the ‘Jungly’ Sea King has taken part in most major conflicts since its introduction and this year’s air show will be the final chance to catch this stalwart in action with the aircraft decommissioning next March. Its successor is the AgustaWestland Merlin HC3/3A which is in the middle of its transition from the Royal Air Force (RAF) to the RN. 846NAS recently returned ‘home’ to Yeovilton as the first ‘Jungly’ Merlin squadron and will feature heavily in the famous Commando Assault.
As mentioned above, the Sea King is due to be withdrawn from UK service at the end of March next year. Yeovilton Air Day will host a Search and Rescue (SAR) demo from a Sea King HU5 of 771NAS based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall.
Air Day 2015 is not just about the Royal Navy, and Yeovilton will be well supported by the other flying arms of the UK. The Army Air Corps (AAC) will display its Attack Helicopter Display Team comprising a pair of Westland Apache AH1 complete with pyrotechnics which promises to be a stand-out display.
Not to be outdone the RAF will provide their world renowned aerobatic display team, the Red Arrows, who last displayed at Yeovilton back in 2013. The RAF will also be displaying their Boeing Chinook HC2 and Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 as well as a pair of Spitfires and Lancaster, if it is repaired in time, from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF).
Former RAF aircraft Avro Vulcan B2 XH558 will once again howl its way around the Somerset skies in what has been confirmed as its final display season. Ever popular, the Vulcan will also be present on the ground for guided under-wing tours once it has displayed.
Foreign participation is always welcome at Air Day and this year it promises to be one of the best for several years.The highlight for many will be the participation of the French Navy. The Aéronavale will send a pair of Dassault Rafale M and Dassault Super Etendard Modernisé (SEM) which will perform their powerful role demonstration. Flying from their home base of Landivisiau in Brittany their participation, this demonstration is a real coup for Air Day. In the static park the French Navy will also provide a Dassault Falcon 10MER.
The Czech Air Force will once again make a return to air day with its Saab JAS-39C Gripen giving a scintillating display while on the ground examples of the L-159 ALCA and CASA C-295M will be part of the static display.
The Norwegian Air Force will also be in attendance with two Lockheed Martin F-16 AM/BM Fighting Falcon in the static display. Their Historical Squadron will display the Mikoyan-Gurevich MIG-15UTI which is the only flying example in Northern Europe and will be another highlight of Air Day 2015.
Aerobatic display teams are always popular and this year Air Day welcomes back the ever present Royal Jordanian Falcons Display Team with their four Extra 300L. Returning after their successful appearance in 2010 is the Patrulla Aguila Display Team from the Spanish Air Force with their seven CASA C-101 Aviojets. Armed with a Yeovilton connection is the newly formed Czech Mates Display Team. Based at Dunkeswell airfield in Devon the team flies a pair of Zlin 526 aircraft and includes Yeovilton based Officer Lieutenant Simon Wilson who is part of 825NAS.
The Mid Air Squadron will display their English Electric Canberra PR9 along with a Hawker Hunter T7 which will evoke memories of the days when the Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit (FRADU) operated from Yeovilton.
Other notable attendees are the Textron AirLand Scorpion which is a proposed American light attack and Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance jet aircraft. The Scorpion is being developed by Textron AirLand, a joint venture between Textron and AirLand Enterprises and will make its Yeovilton debut at air day 2015. An NH90 MTH will be on static courtesy of the Belgian Air Force while the German Navy will provide static examples of its Westland Lynx 88A and Sea King MK41 along with a Do 228-B1R.
This year is the 100th anniversary of Westland (AgustaWestland) which was founded in 1915. Based in nearby Yeovil the company has strong links with Yeovilton through the production and delivery of numerous aircraft types from the Seafire to today’s latest high-tech combat helicopters. Yeovilton air day will provide the public celebration and it is intended that between 10 and 15 aircraft types will be on display along with exhibitions and stands.
The end of the air show at Yeovilton is always concluded with the now legendary Commando Assault.This year’s Assault will feature for the only time 4 Sea King HC4 alongside 4 Merlin HC3 from CHF. This will be a once in a life time opportunity to catch these ‘Junglies’ side-by-side. They will be joined by an RAF Chinook, a pair of AAC Wildcat AH1 with Close Air Support provided by 2 BAe Hawk T1As of the Royal Navy Aggressors, 736NAS. Participation of the French Navy in the assault is still in discussion.The Commando Assault demonstrates troop drops, under-slung load carrying and the extraction of hostages by the Royal Marines all accompanied with numerous explosions, Flare bursts and a very dramatic Wall of Fire.
With several weeks to go until Air Day on July 11th it is hoped that further participants will confirm for the show – but even if the show remains as it stands, Yeovilton Air Day 2015 looks like it will be one to be remembered.
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